How to plan a successful conference – five key trends

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NYS Corporate’s award-winning director of events, Caroline Medcalf, shares her insights on what is shaping the future of the conference industry and what this means for conference venues.

In a constantly evolving industry where no two conferences are the same, trying to meet the expectations of clients, and deliver a few surprises along the way, is enough to give any event planner sleepless nights.

Caroline Medcalf is the director of events at NYS Corporate and has more than 20 years of experience in the sector. Last year she won Meetings & Events Manager of the Year at The People Awards. So, who better to reveal the top five trends in the events industry right now…

1. The rise of interaction

“The days of sitting in a meeting or conference room and watching slide presentations all day are long gone.  We now recommend to our clients that a plenary should be no more than an hour long and, within that, slides should be a maximum of 45 minutes long because otherwise, people start to lose interest and focus on something else – a shorter time slot will keep them engaged.

“We’re encouraging and seeing much more interactive sessions. We believe if you are spending time and money on getting a group of people together then you should be listening to their opinions and feedback in order to understand how to progress.

 “Ideally, we suggest companies do not simply have a ‘show and tell’ style presentation anymore; they can benefit so much from getting instant feedback from the audience. It doesn’t have to be complicated, things like live polling during sessions, Q&As regularly through the day and where appropriate, having a bit of fun with some of the content will keep delegates entertained and engaged.

“We’ve enjoyed a huge increase in people using our ‘Event Hub’ app in the past six months. It means people can network with colleagues prior to the event taking place, we can send push notifications to delegates, create bespoke agendas, offer live polling and make the whole experience much more personalised.

“Ultimately, we want people to go back into the workplace with a clear focus, understanding and feeling like their voice is being heard.”

2. Tech and disruption

“Technology and digital solutions are moving so quickly it’s important to stay in touch with suppliers and attend industry events to keep abreast of all the latest developments. We have a select group of three production partners and, for the larger events, we’re going out to all three providers because this is a fast-moving industry and we have to be delivering the latest technology solutions to our clients.

“Rather than just doing the same conference every year, it’s about trying to do something different. If you can disrupt delegate expectations, they become more switched on to learning and focusing on the content.”

 

3. Leisure and downtime

 “Traditionally, schedules have been jam-packed and offer little or no time to speak to colleagues and interact and there is so much more to team building at an event than the traditional treasure hunt!

“I have seen an increase in the charitable style of team building which also links in with companies own CSR programs, such as ‘Apprentice’ style challenges with all the money raised going to the companies own preferred charity.

“The companies we work with now recognise that it’s really important to include a good amount of time within their agenda to network, socialize or team build, all feature in some form or another in the longer events that we run and we are seeing really positive feedback from delegates as a result.”

4. Wellness – before, during and after

“As above, more downtime is being allowed in the agenda, but there is also a big push towards overall wellness and wellbeing across all levels of the businesses we work with, including the events they run.

“We support this by suggesting ways in which we can provide quiet areas for delegates to take time out from the conference room should they need to, working with the venues we use to ensure we are providing healthy options with every mealtime and even with corporate gifts we are asked to source, things like fitness trackers and personalised filter water bottles.

Forbes magazine ranked the role of an events coordinator as the fifth most stressful job in the world and as an event company, we are aware of the pressures that managing multiple events can bring. We ensure we are doing all we can for our teams by ensuring they have adequate breaks, planning ahead so our team are not running back to back events and making sure we have fun while we are working – it helps that we love the job we do!

“#Eventwell is a resource for wellbeing and support around the events industry and we are huge supporters of what they are doing, they have a week of promoting the issues surrounding the industry to raise awareness. You can find out more at Eventwell.org”

 

5. The sustainable conference

“Sustainability has been a hot topic for some years now but recently with the recent EU plans to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030 things have really speeded up in this area and venues are really getting on board.

“Initiatives such as removing single-use plastics such as straws or plastic stirrers and offering Hydration Stations for delegate breaks, with some venues providing reusable cups and mugs. We are asking venues not to put notepads on every seat in the conference room and to ensure there are adequate bins in the rooms for people to correctly dispose of any rubbish.

“Use of our app and technology is also working well to assist sustainably, there is no longer a need to print out paper agendas or location maps as this, along with all the information the delegates need is stored in the app. When onsite we are encouraging delegates to take notes via the app, rather than on paper. All these little things add up in the end.”

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